COLOMBIA 2020, November 30, 2021


(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)

The Special Session of the Highest Level of the Ethnic Peoples of Colombia (IEANPE in Spanish), charged with monitoring progress on the Ethnic Chapter of the Peace Agreement, this Tuesday published a report on its observations. In the report, it complains of innumerable failures. We talked with Rodolfo Vega, one of its representatives.

“If the implementation of the Peace Agreement was a train, we would be riding in the caboose.” That’s how the ethnic peoples summarize the development of the chapter of the Peace Agreement between the Colombian government and the FARC guerrillas that, five years ago, meant a triumph for the ethnic, Afro- Colombian, and Romany peoples. They had considered themselves to be nothing but “a third man” in the dialogs, because they felt represented neither by the Colombian government nor by the now-defunct guerrillas.

The Ethnic Chapter, contained in four pages of Point Six on Implementation, Verification, and Approval, contains the “substantial safeguards” with respect to prior consultation, and cultural objection; incorporating a cross-sectorial ethnic focus, on gender, women, family, and generational. It requires that the implementation of the Agreement reached in Havana never work to the detriment of the rights of the ethnic peoples. Besides that, itorients the cross-sectorial ethnic focus on each one of the first five points of the Agreement.  

But five years after the Agreement, the ethnic peoples have two central concerns: they are the ones most affected by the current resurgence of the armed conflict. (According to Indepaz, since the signing, 359 indigenous people, and 89 Afro-Colombian people have been murdered.) And according to their report, the Peace Agreement’s promises for their communities are the farthest behind in the implementation.

To do the monitoring on the Ethnic Chapter, they created the Special High Level Session of the Ethnic Peoples of Colombia (IAENPE), which would represent these peoples in the Commission on Monitoring, Stimulus, and Verification on Implementation of the Final Agreement (CSIVI in Spanish). Like IAENPE, which was created formally a year and one half ago, “because of a series of obstacles, failure of guarantees, and lack of funding for its functions”. This Tuesday it issued its first monitoring report.

The report criticizes the fact that the advances are very few. “With the resurgence of the violence in the countryside, and the effects of the covid-19 pandemic, the statistics show a panorama that is not very encouraging on the necessary and appropriate implementation,” states the document. That gap between the implementation of the Agreement and the ethnic focus has already been criticized by the Kroc Institute.

For example, on the establishment and titling of collective properties, the report points out that the Administration’s accounts have included processes that were initiated even before there was a Peace Agreement, and they have not undertaken any new procedures. It also criticizes the fact that, even though the ethnic peoples were taken into consideration in the formulation of the PDET projects, “of the more than 32,800 initiatives identified for the ethnic peoples, not even 7% of them have been carried out.” And on the prioritization of the ethnic population, of the Special Transitory Circumscriptions for Peace, “the national  government has not done what was needed to adopt the measures necessary to guarantee their participation,  including strengthening the government’s capacities and financing.”

Colombia + 20 talked with Rodolfo Vega, a member of the Ethnic Commission for Peace, of Land Rights  Defenders, and a representative of IANPE, about the points that were most stalemated in the implementation of the Ethnic Chapter of the Peace Agreement, and about the private interests that were behind the resurgence of combat and their victimization in the countryside.

The Ethnic Chapter of the Peace Agreement had two essential parts: some safeguards, and the ethnic cross- focus of each one of the points in the Agreement. How are the safeguards going?

As has been seen in different reports, there is a huge lag in the implementation of 97 indicators in the Implementation Framework Plan. The Plan oriented public policies for the implementation of the six points of the Agreement, plus the ones that we collected. And all of that includes the substantial safeguards that have not been counted when the government or other agencies make reports.

When we went out on a limb to include an Ethnic Chapter, the first thing they said was, “If you guarantee the safeguards as such, we will be comfortable in their implementation,” and none of them have been implemented. That worries us because right now we not only have 35 peoples at risk of physical and cultural extermination. The safeguards represented a historic achievement. For example, the cultural objection is an instrument that validatedfor the first time, by a constitutional order, the authority of the ethnic peoples to refuse to permit any measure, program, or project in their territory when it would affect their culture, their identity, their uses and their customs in a substantial way.

To understand that better: What would happen if they found a petroleum deposit in the Vatican, and they would ask the Catholic Church whether they could exploit it or not? There could be an objection by the Church because, let’s say, it’s part of a holy territory for Christians. We searched for that in the implementation of the Peace Agreement, but there was no space for that, nor for the Focus on Gender, Women, and Family; nor was there respect for prior, free, and informed consultation in the territories.

And regarding the trans-sectorial focus: the report shows, point by point, the lagging implementation of the Ethnic Focus. Which is the one that is generating our greatest concern?

I think Point 1 is the one that worries us the most, because, among other things, it’s the pointthat covers social matters. It’s the point that incorporates the possibility that the communitie saffected by the armed conflict, and the ethnic peoples that were the historical victims of the armed conflict, could have access to different projects in their territories. However, we’re still talking planning and management, and there is no fulfillment of the implementation.

In the matter of access to land, for example, one of the achievements of the Ethnic Chapter is that, not only is there access to individual ownership, but that the ethnic peoples also achieved access to collective ownership of properties, and that ownership of collective properties was not conditioned on exploitation, but the land could also be used for conservation and protection. That makes it different from other parts of the Agreement, because there only individual properties, inalienable for seven years, were promised. That means that, if in seven years, the land is not producing, it can be taken away, because it includes the idea that the land was to be used for production.

But, what happens? The government has taken all of the cases that preceded the Peace Agreement, proceedings that had not even been completed, and is reporting as if the indigenous peoples had received an important number of properties through the Peace Agreement, and what we’re saying in our report is, “Mr. Government, that’s not true. You can’t count those ordinary proceedings, becausethey are rights acquired previously by the indigenous peoples, through a minga, or different proceedings.” And don’t even mention the Afro-Colombian people that are in worse conditions. There are no clear procedures for the Afro-Colombian communities, Raizal people[1], and “palenqueras”[2] to have access to land.

It’s obvious. We agreed on a special mechanism for consulting through which we worked with the communities, beginning with the preparation of the projects, until they were carried out and evaluated, and we prioritized contracting with the ethnic peoples’ organizations, or, failing that, with the operators that the communities chose. But that has not been possible, because the special consulting mechanisms were not working right. That means that, in spite of the fact that the indigenous peoples took part in all the planning, management, and building of what were the PDET, and there are 36,000 initiatives, now, in their implementation, they have not worked with, or recognized, the special consulting mechanism with the indigenous and ethnic peoples on the implementation of the PDET (Development Programs with a Territorial Focus.)

That’s a problem, because the same people that took advantage of funds for the war are taking advantage of the funds for the peace, and we say that because in the countryside, the ones that were the historic contractors of the corruption are now the contractors that are using up the funds intended for the peace, for the PDET. That, in reality should go to the campesino, indigenous, and Afro-Colombian communities, according to what they decide in their communities. And we are not seeing that in the implementation of the Agreement. There is not the different focus in every one of the plans.

If the subject is health, the indigenous peoples have been working for many years in the area of personal health. If it’s education, we have our own education system. But this has not been considered in the implementation, so there is no ethnic focus when they include indigenous people as beneficiaries of those programs.

As to substitution of illegal crops, the report criticizes that, except for six territories, there is no clarity on the number of families that are part of ethnic peoples in the program, and that for the more than 13,000 families in those territories, there is no clarity in the consultation procedures. Why is that a problem?

They didn’t do any prior consultation for the PNIS (National Integrated Program for the Substitution of Illegal Crops) in the territories. Because of that, there is no ethnic focus in the substitution of illegal crops. And that’s incredible, because nearly 90% of the crops, even though not planted by indigenous people, but rather by campesinos who plant in indigenous territories, working on our property. On the contrary, what we are seeing is that the conflict has intensified in the ethnic territories. Where? In Nariño, where the Awá and the Afro-Colombian people are living, in Cauca, in the Chocó, and in Catatumbo . . . that is, the areas where the ethnic people live in this country. Let the FARC and the government kill each other somewhere else, but not in our territories.

Can you talk about some point where there has been progress with an ethnic focus?

We have mentioned that in the area of victims there has been a little progress in the Integrated System of Truth, Justice, Reparation, and No Repetition. That’s to say, we have been able to advance a little with the Truth Commission, which will have an ethnic chapter in its report. We have progressed with the JEP, where we obtained a number of Afro-Colombian and indigenous Justices for the first time in history, and there is an ethnic Committee in the interior of the JEP. There was a prior consultation with the JEP regarding coordination with the indigenous justice system. And now they are talking about an Ethnic Macrocase, and it’s possible that there will be one. And with the Unit for Search for the Disappeared, an ethnic chapter has also gone forward.

You were talking about the continuing conflict, and last week the North Cauca Association of Indigenous Councils denounced a major resurgence of the conflict in the ethnic territories . . .

And that’s what’s happening. And we have to add that, for us, not only is the peace territorial, but it’s also peace with the territory, because our territories have been victims. There has been damage to the watersheds and to the geography of the rivers, to our mountains, to our lake. All of that illegal mining in Chocó and Antioquia, but also the legal mining in La Guajira and César. All of these aspects that we are worried about are part of the guarantee of no repetition, which is what we ought to be talking about, the construction of a stable and lasting peace with social justice, or the vision of the country that we have as indigenous people. We say this: for us, the peace is being able to live communally, in equilibrium and harmony with the territory and nature in its dimensions, the material as well as the nonmaterial. All of these connotations that are incorporated in the Agreement are what we want to point out in our report.

Specifically, in different regions you have criticized an interest in the extractive sector, and about the mega-industries, so that the territories can remain vacant so that you can develop your own activities. Have you researched the reasons that the focus of the conflict is principally in your territories?    

Without any doubt, what’s behind that are the socioeconomic and extractive interests. That means, not just because of the territories, but because of their resources. I don’t know if the indigenous wise men of years ago thought about this, but if you identify the indigenous and ethnic territories in this country, that’s where the greater part of natural resources exist, in the soil and the subsoil. So what is there, and we have criticized this vehemently, is an interest in natural resources, and that’s why they don’t care if there are Afro-Colombians or indigenous people, but only about theextraction of whatever doesn’t cost them anything, but will bring them riches. And those interestsare of various kinds; there are governmental interests, the interests of large corporations, and theinterests of the armed actors in the territory. And then add the drug trafficking to all of this.

You have insisted on the lack of this administration’s political will to implement the Ethnic Chapter in the Agreement. Do you have any hope for a result in the next election?

We hope that whoever is elected will implement the Agreement. You can see that the ethnic peoples have been more attached to the Historic Pact, and the reason for that is an Afro-Colombian candidate and an indigenous candidate. We’re tired of being the bag carriers. We’ve said that we want to have some candidates. We worry about the Coalition for Hope; we don’tsee a woman, or an indigenous, or an Afro-Colombian candidate with them. What we hope for is an outcome in which there is unity for peace in this country.

[1] Raizal People are Afro-Caribbean people who live in the Colombian Caribbean Archipelago.(EFE Agency)

[2] “Palenqueras” refers to freed slaves who are known in Cartagena for their ability to carry basketsof fruit on their heads.

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